Granny Nora was a great woman for the aphorisms. She drove me mad with the hackneyed phrase she’d trot out for every crisis. I hated when some great tragedy in my life was greeted only with a philosophical nod, an existentialist shrug of the shoulders, and some dismissive cliché. Boyfriend gone? “Plenty more fish in the sea,” she’d assure me. Lost my job? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
The day my parents died in a car crash, though, silenced even her.
Late that night we sat, numb with misery, by the fireplace. The house echoed with a fierce unremitting silence, broken only by the swish of my father’s favourite whiskey and the dull clink of melting ice as we sipped intermittently. The warm rich taste was both a benediction and a mockery, as I remembered other occasions where I had experienced the same taste.
“The last time we drank this whiskey was Daddy’s birthday,” I said, staring at the liquid glowing amber in the flickering firelight.
“I remember,” she said. Dried tears tracked her wrinkles; her shoulders slumped with the unbearable weight of the grief.
“We always seemed to bring the whiseky out whenever we were celebrating the things that really mattered, didn’t we? The birthdays, the weddings, the baptisms.”
“Yes. Uisce beatha.”
We sat in more silence for a while. Until she took a deep shuddering breath and sat upright. “We are still celebrating the things that matter,” she announced.
“What do you mean?” I stared at her. Had she finally lost it with her bloody aphorisms? Surely this, of all events, could not be reduced to a metaphorical pat on the shoulder?
“We are honouring and celebrating their lives now, in this moment. We wouldn’t be so sad if their lives were not so valuable. We are celebrating the years we had with them. We are celebrating you, who came from them and in whose life and whose face they live forever.” Her voice wobbled, caught. She cleared her throat and continued, and the effort it cost her lingered in the strain on her face, the creaking of the words. “We are celebrating all those who gathered here this evening to support us, who will continue to support us.”
As her words washed over me, I realised her eternal wisdom.
She had been right that time; there were plenty more fish in the sea, and one of those fish was travelling through the night to come and support me. The lost job had made me stronger, and found me a better one. And yes, my parents’ lives were what really mattered, what we needed to celebrate.
Silently I lifted my glass to her, in a toast. And she toasted back.